Images and statistics are both deceptive. It is difficult to guess what something represents, and it is impossible to predict where a person ends up in his career. When sixteen-year-old Sachin Tendulkar walked on the grounds to play against Pakistan, people had heard about the prodigy. That he would have retired after playing for 24 years of international cricket, scoring around 35000 thousand runs. Shoaib Akhtar, the Pakistani great fast bowler, recently said that Sachin would have scored around One hundred thousand runs, had he been in today’s era. Vinod Kambli also walked out at the same time with similar statistic and look where he ended up.
During the second half of the last century and in the twenty years that followed, the world has progressed rapidly. Millions of poor people were brought above the poverty line, the world over. It is an accurate description in countries like India and China with huge populations. It was predicted that India and China would be “developed” nations in a certain number of years. It was based on some predictions, based on financial activities of those periods and statistic. But that was not to be! Why is that so?
That the United States and Europe were developed and prosperous was beyond discussion. Surprisingly, I found that there could be some measures to compare the richness of different societies. PPP- purchase power parity is the word used! A root canal procedure costs Rs 2500/ in India, while it costs, on an average, Dollars 2500/ in various countries like the US, Canada, Australia.
Let me tell you that Dollars 2500/ is a lot of money in the respective countries compared to other living expenses. So is Rs 2500/ in India under Indian conditions. It is a procedure that anybody may require. These aspects were never discussed openly. There were wars to be fought, politics to be played and yachts to be built. Do not worry; statistics tell us that many people have become middle class. Do not worry, if you are not able to buy your Chivas or Dom Perignon, be patient. The shops will open!
The current pandemic has thrown that hidden statistic open! I am considering only the US and India for discussion. In the US, around 35/40 million people have registered for the monthly dole as they do not have money for their next month’s meal. When we travel to the US, we move around in planes, helicopters and BMW’s. We forget that there about 30 % of people whose life has been hit by a typhoon or a Patton tank. The statistic is that it is 30% of US working force that is badly hit. If we consider 30 % of people hit by the pandemic, the number is 35/40 million. In our language, it is from 3.5 to 4 crores. The numbers are much more than this because many people do not get counted in official figures.
One to two months of bad times, without wages, has brought these people on the road. The stark reality is that statistics can be easily twisted to suit any argument. In the US, 3 to 4 crore people are brought to their knees, then the statement that the US is the wealthiest society in the world is baseless. The so-called middle-class like you and me take education and get a reasonable job. We save, get ahead in life, then we keep on saving and try to go forward in life.
So, the theory that millions the world over have become middle-class is not valid! Or I should say that these people have not become middle class- they have come just above the poverty line. When everything is hunky-dory, life looks and feels rosy! Spanking Metros, sprawling airports are the signs of progress. Are they? A sustained and unprecedented event has brought in open what is hidden behind the “progress!”
Why is that so? In the shining glory of the life that we live, the reflection of the bright lifestyle blinds our sight. We accept whatever is said and declared by various governments and organisations! The shining armour of the progress was pierced by one pandemic. Societies are bleeding.
Are we going to learn any lessons out of the catastrophe the large population is facing? I am not sure. The massive construction projects will restart, with workers living in their huts near their projects. These people live from project to project at the mercy of their contractors. They have some money in hand when things are “normal”. They aspire like you, and I do. The moment they have some free money with them, they will buy a bike—nothing wrong in that. The public transports are shoddy, and having your bike makes sense. The officegoers in Mumbai will go back to their trains- packed like sardines! Homes near your offices cannot be taken even on rent, forget buying them.
To me, all these claims of a large group of people becoming middle class is a statistic. If one or two months of no work and mostly no income going to push this group below the poverty line, the definition poverty line needs to be changed. To me, if families could survive six months of “no income”, then they could be treated as middle class. If in the first month of “no income” 20 % of the US workforce comes on the dole, then there is something wrong with of these definitions.
In India, there are two types of people who have progressed from low income; the wise ones have saved money from their income. All the members of such families do some work. Whereas there are some who can not bring families to cities. Such people survive on meagre amounts in cities and send remaining money to the family. The arrangement does not allow them to save money at all.
To me, the middle class is those people who come above the poverty line, live comfortably and SAVE MONEY! If you cannot save money, one shock and you are back to square one.
In every country, people are working on minimum wage. They could be in Mom and Pop stores or the stores in Malls. They could be working in Amazon or Ikea stores. Under Indian conditions, these are people working as assistants to people running kiosks on the roadside. These could be housemaids or cleaning staff in unorganised sectors! They all survive from salary to salary. Their conditions are such that they are afraid to fall sick for two reasons. The first one is they cannot afford the treatment- hence sometimes they waste money on quacks when they are sick. The second reason is that if they cannot attend work after falling ill, they are not paid for that day. It is a double whammy!
What is the solution to such problems? There is only one solution. Let there be inflation, let things cost more but pay people much more than what they are paid today. It will cause big churning in society, especially for retired people. I am not a communist or a socialist.
I am a Capitalist with a big C; I am out and out for the survival of the fittest. I understand and agree with market forces etc. But something is drastically wrong with the current model in which the one month of “no income” can ruin families!
Hey folks! I am with you! You do not need dole! It is your birthright to earn decent money against work done, and you should be able to save every month. So, all the nations, all the societies must first change the definition of poverty line! If that cannot be done, make everyone RICH!